RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
On Capitol Hill, the House today is scheduled to vote on a compromise bill to renew and expand a program that provides health insurance to low-income children.
President Bush has vowed to veto the measure. But as NPR's Julie Rovner reports, pressure is mounting from every corner to get him to change his mind.
JULIE ROVNER: In his weekly radio address this past Saturday, the president was adamant about his plan to veto the bill that would add $35 billion over the next five years to the State Children's Health Insurance Program known as SCHIP. Not only is the compromise bill worked out by the House and Senate negotiators too expensive, Mr. Bush said...
GEORGE W: And their proposal would move millions of children who now have private health insurance into government-run health care. Our goal should be to move children who have no health insurance to private coverage - not to move children who already have private health insurance to government coverage.
ROVNER: But the leading trade group for the private health insurance industry doesn't think that sort of shift from private to public insurance would happen. It's endorsed the bill. So has the Healthcare Leadership Council, which represents private health care providers that normally side with the president.
At a news conference yesterday, council president Mary Grealy singled out a provision of the compromise bill for praise. It would allow states to use their government SCHIP money to help low-income parents pay for private insurance through their jobs for their children.
MARY GREALY: With this provision, we will see families that can be under the same health care plan and with access to the same physicians and hospitals, all the members of the family.
ROVNER: Other speakers tried to couch their pleas to the president to change his mind in terms they thought might appeal to him.
Here's how Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association of America, put it.
CAROL KEEHAN: Reauthorizing SCHIP represents the most humane and pro-life opportunity the Congress and this president will have this year to ensure millions of children, born and unborn, that they receive the health care they need.
ROVNER: The president is clearly right about one thing - many Democrats are using the issue to try to score political points.
At a forum on health care yesterday in Washington, presidential candidate John Edwards says Mr. Bush's position on the SCHIP bill is, quote, "dead wrong."
JOHN EDWARDS: I mean, we're going to have more tax cuts for the richest people in the country. We're going to have people who make their money from investments paying a 15 percent tax rate while many working Americans are paying a much higher tax rate than that on their work income. But we're going to take away health care from children? I just don't think this is where America is. I'm not sure exactly what the president is thinking.
ROVNER: Republicans who helped negotiate the bill are frustrated with the president as well. Iowa Senator Charles Grassley says he's already bargained Democrats down to $35 billion from the $50 billion expansion they originally wanted. And he says the compromise includes several changes to the SCHIP program that the president said he wanted.
CHARLES GRASSLEY: It gets adults out of the program. It discourages states from covering higher income kids. At the same time, it rewards states that cover more of the lowest income kids. It puts the lowest income children first in line.
ROVNER: When the House voted on the original version of the children's health bill last month, it passed by only a handful of votes. But that bill also included some highly controversial changes to the Medicare program that have been shelved for now.
Supporters are hoping they can win over as many as two dozen Republicans who won't want to explain why they voted against health insurance for children just a week before the program is set to expire.
Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.
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